While other Western nations have pledged in recent weeks to send main battle tanks to help Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion, Belgium is not among that group, as it has no tanks left.
The Leopard 1A5 is the final upgraded version of the famous Leopard 1 tank during the Cold War period developed by West Germany. Equipped with a new main gun combined with an advanced fire control system, this tank is still very powerful. While other Western nations have pledged in recent weeks to send main battle tanks to help Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion, Belgium is not among that group, as it has no tanks left. Belgium decommissioned the Leopard 1 tank many years ago and sold it to a defense company, and they are planning to buy these tanks to supply Ukraine.
Interestingly, the Belgian company OIP Land Systems bought 50 former Leopard 1A5s from the Belgian army in 2014 for 10-15 thousand euros each, and now it is for sale for 500,000 euros, despite not being operational. Western governments are facing difficulty to find more weapons for Ukraine. The weapons they throw away as obsolete are now in high demand and many are now in the hands of private companies.
The Leopard 1 is the predecessor of the Leopard 2 tanks that Germany, Poland, Finland and other countries agreed last month to send to Ukraine. It is lighter than the Leopard 2 and has a different type of main gun. The Belgian Army received 334 Leopard 1BE between 1968 and 1971. In 1984, the Army Command decided to upgrade 132 Leopard to the A5 standard. The upgrade included a new gun firing direction system with thermal imaging, a laser rangefinder and a muzzle reference system.
Leopard 1 was designed based on the fact that the tanks of the early Cold War could not withstand ATGMs with cumulative projectiles, so the designers decided to neglect the armor in favor of firepower, speed, and improved ground clearance. Leopard 1, only 40 tons in the original version, fast and maneuverable, and the British 105-mm gun Royal Ordnance L7 allowed it to feel quite confident on the battlefield of the time.
Compared with contemporary modern tanks, Leopard 1 is quite outdated. The weak 105-mm gun simply cannot break through the armor of the updated T-80BVM or T-90AM, and weak armor will not withstand the shot of a 120-mm gun.
But Leopard 1 can still be useful. Thanks to its high maneuverability, the Leopard 1 can be used as a tank support machine to destroy the ATGM crews that threaten tank columns. Leopard 1 can be used to hold secondary positions to free up more modern tanks for important areas.